Meet Ignacio – a living embodiment of resilience, determination, and the unbreakable human spirit. His remarkable journey is not just a testament to personal strength; it’s an inspiration for millions facing adversity across the United States.
Ignacio was born in 1990 during Cuba’s oppressive communist regime. At the young age of four, he faced the devastating loss of his mother to leukemia – a defining moment that shaped his life. In 1997, fortune smiled upon his family when they won a visa lottery, offering them an escape from the shackles of Cuba to start anew in the land of freedom and opportunity – the United States.
Ignacio’s upbringing was defined by the values of hard work instilled by his father, the everlasting love of his late mother, and discipline from his stepmother. These values fueled his unwavering ambition to become a fighter pilot, with a dream of giving back for the newfound opportunities he now cherished and the dream of one day going to space.
In 2012, Ignacio’s dedication bore fruit when he secured a coveted spot in flight training after excelling in Air Force ROTC at Georgia Tech. However, just nine months later, his life took an unexpected turn. A severe motorcycle accident left him with a complete spinal cord injury, complete peripheral nerve damage to his right arm, traumatic brain injury, and more. This occurred just three weeks before he was set to embark on undergraduate pilot training at Sheppard AFB, Texas, instead he awoke at Shepherd Center in Atlanta, GA – a top 10 rehabilitation hospital in the country. Ignacio, however, refused the label of disability or let it define his outlook in life. Instead, he channeled his fighter pilot mentality into a new mission: to revolutionize the standard and continuum of care for paralysis through his own journey of self-experimentation and translational biomedical research.
As an apprentice research scientist, Ignacio attended numerous paralysis research symposiums and conferences, worked tirelessly at a paralysis recovery center, and earned a Master’s degree in Biomedical Innovation and Development at Georgia Tech. His focus was on learning, picking brains, making connections, and utilize existing biomedical technologies to demonstrate that even individuals with the most severe “complete” spinal cord injuries could regain some sustainable and valuable sensory awareness and function through an intensive, non-invasive, sensory-stimulating, weight-bearing maximized training regimen.
After five years of relentless 24/7 effort with a complete spinal cord injury to stand every day in a standing frame working on maintaining his bone density and eliminating all secondary medical issues that were deteriorating his health, Ignacio designed an innovative protocol using a Lokomat. For 12 months, he walked 2-4 hours a day with 100% weight-bearing, covering 655 miles, using this robotic orthosis suspended over a treadmill with variable body-weight support that was essentially at 0% while wearing a virtual reality headset that displayed a first-person view of a person walking on a trail. This journey resulted in the recovery of novel sensations throughout his body, primarily at the bottom of his feet and last sacral segment ultimately improving his neurological function from AIS A to AIS B on the neurological function scale.
Ignacio graduated top of his class and was recognized and commended by the Georgia House of Representatives in House Resolution 301 for his work. Ignacio’s passion and dedication led him to Los Angeles, where he participated in a groundbreaking 12-month experimental research protocol using non-invasive electrical stimulation at UCLA. Here he also met his now wife, who as a physical therapist selflessly shifted careers to become a research assistant and work with him on this quest for reversing paralysis. He pursued a second Master’s degree in Kinesiology at Cal State LA, focusing on the recovery and beneficial effects of sexual function after paralysis. His study revealed significant physiological and psychological improvements that translated into overall proprioception, bowel and bladder function, genital sensations, and restored sexual function. He is currently applying to begin his Ph.D. in Bio-kinesiology at USC where he hopes to merge his biomedical and kinesiology backgrounds to continue to demonstrate how to reverse paralysis through self-experimentation.
Ignacio’s work offers hope to countless individuals facing paralysis. Collaborating with renowned researcher Dr. Reggie Edgerton, Ignacio pioneers innovative approaches at Rancho Los Amigos Research Institute. His numerous presentations to the global scientific community at the Society for Neuroscience and personal achievements, such as taking over 500,000 steps in an exoskeleton with just 65% robotic assistance while receiving electrical stimulation on his spine, underscore his unwavering commitment.
In Ignacio’s own words, his mission is clear: “I aspire to contribute to the journey of reversing paralysis by using my experience to make space accessible to everyone, including those with physical challenges. As an ambassador, my aim is to redefine accessibility and inclusivity in commercial space travel by showcasing how biomedical innovations can restore functional independence and reverse paralysis, both in zero-gravity and on Earth.” He believes zero-gravity to be the best platform to demonstrate that seemingly insurmountable obstacles can be overcome, and dreams regardless of paralysis can be attained.
Becoming an accessible space ambassador holds profound significance for Ignacio. It represents an opportunity to illustrate that adversity can be conquered and dreams can be realized, regardless of the hurdles we face in life. From his early years in Cuba, living under the shadow of a communist regime, to the pivotal moment when a motorcycle accident altered the course of his very existence, Ignacio’s story has been marked by the pursuit of independence in every form. Today, that pursuit leads him to a quest for a unique form of independence – one from the pull of gravity itself.
In every instance, Ignacio has transformed these challenges into stepping-stones for growth. His journey serves as a testament to the incredible potential residing within each of us, showing that resilience, determination, and the indomitable human spirit can surmount any obstacle.
Ignacio’s narrative encapsulates the very essence of hope, courage, and an unwavering drive, echoing his belief that “with love, faith, and perseverance, nothing is impossible.”